Micro-interventions to disrupt bias at work:
Strategies for managers

Everyone is responsible to limit bias at work. Executives are charged to set the tone and ambition to create a diverse, and more importantly, inclusive workplace for all. Human Resources are to break down bias in its people-related systems (i.e., recruitment, promotions). Managers and employees, too, have roles to play.

Unconscious bias manifests in a number of ways in the workplace. Insidiously, it introduces irrelevant factors when making decisions. This could be race, gender, age, sexual orientation. It could also be related to an individual’s personal weight, if they’re parents or not, or many other factors. These factors are often invisible to the decision maker, yet when applied, they limit individuals at work.

Maternal bias is a prime example. Mothers are often stereotyped to be less committed to their jobs, which impacts decisions about their salaries. According to analysis by University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a woman’s wages are cut by 4% per child. This penalty is greater when other social biases, such as race, are applied. Black, Indigenous and Latinx women experience an increasingly wider pay gap to begin with, which is made worse once they become mothers.

Microaggressions in the workplace

Bias also translates into microaggressions, that is small, seemingly inconsequential actions. These are the questions asked, the words used, the assumptions made or the ways we behave in the presence of individuals from certain groups. Their intent may not be hostile. Yet, the message they send is clear to recipients and their colleagues: you or something about you is different. More simply, you don’t belong.

Microaggressions are offensive, alienating and can harm or hurt others deeply and personally. They’re also fairly common in the workplace. A Deloitte survey found 64% of respondents had experienced or witness bias at work. When they go unchecked, affected individuals and their colleagues are unable to be as productive. Morale dips, which impedes performance. Attrition rises. It also erodes a company’s culture and reputation.

To unravel these impacts, managers need to create inclusive, safe team environments where employees can call out bias and grow beyond their biases. Managers and employees, too, must find ways to disrupt bias.

Strategies to counter bias

This can be done with what a research team out of Columbia University calls micro-interventions. These are the small, yet powerful actions we can do to disrupt bias in the moment. By doing so, managers and employees can help dismantle bias in their workplaces.

Here are several strategies to get you started:

  1. Make the invisible visible: To interrupt bias, we must first be able to spot it. The first step, then, is to take the time to understand the many ways bias manifests.
  2. Set the expectation: Managers are the models others will follow. As such, they must state through their words and actions, what is acceptable and what is not. Employees, too, can set this standard for their colleagues.
  3. Call out bias: It’s may not be easy to do, but necessary nonetheless. There’s an art to calling out bias that can be expressed verbally or with body language cues.
  4. Don’t Preach: Disrupting bias is only the start. It must be followed up with an open and engaging dialogue that explains why certain actions are problematic.
  5. Seek help: As a manager or an employee, you won’t have all the right answers. That’s why it’s important to call on experts – those within your organization or external facilitators – who can help your team grow beyond their biases.

These micro-interventions along with other communications strategies are included in a new LDI Communication Guide called Interrupt Bias: What to say at work. The anti-bias tool also includes conversation starters to interrupt bias in the moment and engage in those deeper conversations thereafter.

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Interrupt bias:
What to say at work

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